Stanley Clarke

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The Ultimate Interview!

Terrill from the T.U.M.S. team takes it to the next level in speaking with one of the most honorable musicians, cossumate producers & nicest people on the planet – Mr. Stanley Clarke!!

Mr. Clarke gets into great detail about his understanding of the music industry, insights to what we can expect from it. Plus more, as we at The Urban Music Scene are priviledged to spend some quality time with him!!

TERRILL:     The Urban Music is privileged to have with us, the honorary, the legendary, jazz bassist – Mr. Stanley Clark, is in the HO– — — USE!! What’s happening man?

STANLEY:     All right, man, what’s up, man? How are you feeling?
TERRILL:     I’m feeling good man. Like I said, I’m honored, blessed to have you on the phone. I got you in this interview man.  I have been following you for years! All of your music is legend man! The scores, the production, the quality albums, the collaborations – it’s speechless! It’s definitely high quality! And again, we’re just very thankful that you can spare some time with us today and chat with you. How are you doing?
STANLEY:     I’m doing pretty good man. I’m basically taking off this month of October and so I worked a lot this year with George Duke. I worked with the writers Mr. Yoda and John McCarthy and got the score of the television show series “Lincoln Heights”. That has been going very well and I’m just doing a lot of stuff.
TERRILL:     Cool man! Then you got this new release on Heads Up Recordings,  “The Toys of Men”. Please talk to us about that recording…
STANLEY:     Well that was a nice thing. I have a band that I have been taking out with myself with some really young players. I think I’m like the Louie Armstrong of the band. These guys are all under 26, you know – drummer was 23 at the time, piano player – 24, the violinist is 25. and basically we kind of put a record together that was a little bit more provocative, I’ll put it that way. The thing that I like about the record is that it has a lot of things. It pretty much has everything that I do on the record. It’s kind of a concept record in nature. One good thing is that usually when I make records, I have different bands and different scenarios on pretty much every song. On this album, a large part of the record is the band. And they’re a young band, very politically active and so we did a record. We have a statement in the first tune, kind of our statement musically about war and that’s kind of what that first tune is. Like I said earlier, it’s a record that you have to kind of commit and want to listen to. It’s not particularly background music, like a lot of stuff that is done these days. You just have to kind of commit to listening to it. So that’s really nice. That one of my favorite things about the record.
Terrill:            That’s real refreshing in the way you stated that. In terms of listening.
Stanley:          Yes.
Terrill:            And sitting down and listening to your project – that’s what real jazz brings to the table! Just sit back and listen. Comparative to the smooth jazz, which is that background music I suppose.
STANLEY:     The problem, not to put the smooth jazz guys down. But what happens is, a lot of time in our business and other businesses is that you have people see success as just very natural, for human beings who naturally want to be successful. And they want to be great survivors. Many times when they see something and say ‘oh that’s great’, they try to copy it. Now the problem with that is when you have too many people doing that, it actually brings down the art. If you look at the mathematics of that concept, it brings the art down. If a guy like Kenny G comes out and makes and sell nine skillion records. He’s playing a saxophone in a particular way. Then everybody else is going to start sounding like that and then what happens is that you have so many records with so many people sounding like that; Actually what happens is you lose a personal identity and after all you listen to the radio, you don’t know who’s playing. Back in the 60’s and the 70’s, one of the cool things is that, when you listen to this (R&B group and you knew that was Rufus.
TERRILL:     That’s right!


STANLEY:     You knew this was Miles Davis, you knew this was Graham Central Station, you knew that was Return to Forever, or James Brown, whatever. You knew that basically everyone was distinctive and unfortunately the instrumental music today, it’s so…s
o similar. Because people are more after success and going after radio air play and all those sort of things. And then everyone does that same thing that they think will bring them that type of success. So what I like is when you see a musician that wants to do his best. I actually believe, I always have believed, that true success and true, like where you make money, fame all of that stuff should be a by product and you should really be there trying to. If you’re a funky musician, then you should come up with the funkiest stuff you could possibly do.
TERRILL:     That’s right.
STANLEY:     And the product will be that. Wow, you may get rich, you’ll get famous, – people will come to your concerts, because all the great artists that I ever met, the truly great status is what they had in mind. You look at Chaka Khan, I’ve known Chaka Khan for a looonnnnng time. Way back to the beginnings of Rufus. They used to come to our shows, when they were Return to Forever. I remember we used to have a girl named Denise Williams that used to open up too, you know we went back there. Starting in 1972, it’s a long time ago and I’ve seen all the great artists that I ever seen have one thing in common and that is – a love for their craft, whatever that is. And a desire to be the best at it. All the by products were the stuff that everybody seems to lean on too heavily today. Making a million, doing this, and then there’s no real personality. What happened is I truly believe, that because the record industry is so kind of dilapidated, so that sales are off what 30, 40 percent or whatever it is. I can’t just blame the record industry totally for it. I think it’s a combination of both and obviously record companies are going to say ‘yeah man you need to get, why don’t you listen to Kenny G and get your thing sounding like that’. Sure that’s going to be natural for a record company person to say that because he wants sales and the artist doesn’t have to agree with that. He doesn’t have to do it. He can try to bring some truth into the matter.  I mean, like the smarter guys are the ones that say ‘no’, but check this out’. It’s a very, very difficult time in instrumental music in my opinion. In all music, in general. I think there’s a lot of good stuff out there. There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s misguided or it’s kind of hard to pinpoint what it is. There’s a lot of problems out there.
Terrill:            It’s just refined with us, even to our listeners. With the state of the music today and the quality of the music, the lyrics, overall production. Most and many are going back to the old school, pulling out a 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s recordings.
Stanley:          Yeah, yeah. You know what? Those records – they sound better. See, I think that listeners, one of the things that I like about someone that is sort of on the street is, it doesn’t really, maybe have some experience, but they’re pretty much just buying the record. They’re just out there. There are certain instincts that people have. They can tell when something is not honest. One of the problems with, even though the great strides have been made in technology, they are remarkable and I take my hat off to all of those guys. What it did was empowered a lot of us to be able to do things and make records. And also opening that door, it opens doors to people that maybe shouldn’t be making records. That use, the technology to sort of cover up for maybe what they can’t do. And it’s only natural. When you listen to a record that was made in the 60’s and 70’s, that had very minimal technology. This guy was on a microphone and the signal goes through the mic on a special equipment and that’s it. Now you got guys singing, when you hear background singing on records today – it’s so perfect. They’re using pro tools and I’m not afraid to say this. They have tuners now. Anybody can be singing completely like (making growling sounds) and you can stick it through this. There’s a couple of plug-ins or pro tools that you could clean that up and make it, 
Terrill:            What!?
Stanley:          Absolutely. People don’t notice, but they instinctively know it, because particularly if you are African American and if you ever went to church, you know what a real vocal blend is. That’s the one thing that we know.
Terrill:            That’s one thing that we’re connected to.
Stanley:          You know what that supposed to sound like. So if you hear like some R&B singer and in the background you hear like somebody (Laugh), you go like “whoa, there’s something wrong with that”!
Terrill:            You know that’s quite pitiful, man. Because when you try to reach to a listener – a base of listeners, it does become a disparity.
Stanley:          Yes, and that’s out there quite a bit. You know, that’s just one of the things that’s happening. A
nd another thing is the way songs are constructed. In the old days you played a song – now a guy will play four bars, another six bars here, and another eight bars there and they construct it all together. And they try really hard to make it linear, but it’s just instinctively, you something ain’t, this is too clean. This is too perfect.
Terrill:            Right!
Stanley:          No human being is perfect.
Terrill:            Exactly.
Stanley:          And artistically as well. You look at the great painters – you look at Picassos, you look at Monets, you look at any of the great artists out there and you look at their works. The raw, Picasso’s stuff was raw as hell and I mean.
Terrill:            Yes, exactly…
Stanley:          If you take a painting and you have it generated from a computer, you look at that. It’s cold! It’s something you know like whoa.
Terrill:            It’s like, it’s like, it’s souless.
Stanley:          Yes.
Terrill:            No soul in it.
Stanley:          There you go. So that’s my big problem with today’s music. But you know what? I have a lot of faith in human beings and I do believe that eventually, it’s going to settle. It’ll be something that will happen and usually something that is spearheaded by some musicians or singers or a person or some figure head or something. Someone will come along with some musical art and realize, just come through and it isn’t going to be something that is computer generated. Then we will all be in trouble and it’ll be something much like when Sly came on the scene, much like when there’s a lot of points in time. 

Terrill:            Well, one thing that is in consideration: When you talk about, going back a little in our conversation about pure artists. And the distinctive sound. You hit it on the nail, about certain smooth jazz songs, not to pick on that genre by name, but much of that music – when you play it over and over again, it does begin at some point to sound like one whole album. Sounds like the same thing over and over again. One thing about your music Stanley is that you try to change, you bring the best out, I mean you’re in a league that nobody I believe in today’s music can come in and step into the room with. You and Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. You guys transcend the music. Is there any advise you’d like to share in this interview to any up and coming jazz artist?
Stanley:          Hey man, it’s a simple word: it’s honesty man. When you mix honesty with expertise and willingness to express yourself, that to me is three of the main components of art. You see, when you’re out there and I mean there’s many artists, you can always tell an artist that just comes out and wants to make money. They usually make one or two records and you never hear from them again. The true, the great period that we had in R&B for instance, was believe it or not, the Motown time. Reason is because these people would come to what was pretty much the university of Barry Gordy. Now a lot of people talk about maybe the business wasn’t … but that’s a separate issue. I mean, we could go back a little further and look at Chuck Berry and those guys that never got paid. You look at a Chuck Berry book and you see songs written by Chuck Berry, Joe Markowitz, & Bill Steinberg. Bill was not there when Chuck was writing those songs. But these lawyers manipulated their way in on those copyrights. That’s a separate thing. When the Supremes came to Barry Gordy, he wasn’t thinking about the first record. He was thinking about the fourth record, which was going to really explode. We don’t have that anymore. For everything, it’s like you’re as good as your last single. You’re only as good as I think your first single is going to be. It’s a very sad, sad thing. I don’t lose any sleep over it. But I mean, it’s just when you look at it. Everything is so immediate. There is no growth.
Terrill:            Right.
Stanley:          When you have an artist, when you start seeing these saxophones players that are out there, smooth jazz saxophone players, you put their records on back to back. It’s the same record.
Terrill:            That’s my point. That is exactly my point. I mean, if you take the time to really listen to a certain style, a type of key their playing in. 
Stanley:          All of us play a role in this demise of art in this country. Even the listener. I know there are some people who say the audience is always right. I don’t believe that. I believe that the audience, because they’re paying and they’re there willing to hear what you have to offer, they get a little more of a pass than the other businessmen. The audience too has to be educated and they have to be willing to sit down and say ok, I’m listening to this Kenny G record, but I would like to hear Kenny do something else the next time. Just to settle for that record that you could have your girl right next to you. You could pull out the wine and you could have sex all night and that’s all you really want. Then you’re not really a serious music listener. And I’m not saying that everybody should be a serious music listener. I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that do take their listening serious. But if you go a step further to investigate the problem, you’ll see. In our school system, when I came (grew) up – we had music appreciation.
Terrill:            Same here.
Stanley:          We were taught about Duke Ellington, taught about Miles Davis, we were taught about who is this English invasion with the Beatles. Who are these guys? Ok, they’re the Beatles. Why do they sound that way? Oh…because they listen to Chuck Berry. Oh…who’s Chuck Berry? You understand the history of music and now I see a little bit of that now, but there was a long period of time where that didn’t happen. You know it’s funny when I speak. Some people might think that I don’t like hip hop music. I actually do like hip hop music. My feeling on hip hop music is that: I kind of like to crack a joke and say Ronald Reagan is responsible for that. I mean you know when you have a music that comes out of a community that’s kind of a social commentary with a beat. Now it’s turned into like, it’s like a circus now. But back in the day it was very honest. These brothers came out. They couldn’t go to school. There might not have even been schools in their neighborhoods.  They would come out with this music and they say ‘well I can’t play music so I’m going to sample somebody else’s playing music’. Very creative, man! I admit it. But like anything in this country it gets copied,  you got people who really shouldn’t be rapping.
Terrill:            Right. You said it! 
Stanley:          There are people that should not be doing it. And then the whole idea of rapping now is a novelty.    

Terrill:            Exactly, and it’s gotten so commercialized that it is no longer seen as a community blessing.
Stanley:          Yes. You got people from other cultures that are rapping and they don’t even, I mean, it’s just very embarrassing actually. Then the thing on the other side is who am I to say that they shouldn’t do it. It’s just that in this country, for some reason, have this thing about when something is precious, it becomes unprecious. It’s just the way it is man.
Terrill:            That’s well said too. Then when it becomes unprecious, how do you take it back to being precious?
Stanley:          I mean….You got a guy like Miles Davis who played and now you got other guys who put mutes in and they wear some nice stuff and they get there and they’re like – They’re Miles Davis now. You got blond hair guys out there playing with the music. Swaying back and selling records and the it becomes something else. And that is the thing about this country. I can’t blame this guy for going out there to get paid. You probably know who I’m talking about. I can’t blame this guy for going out there being the kind of you know, I’m speaking of this guy Chris Botti. I can’t blame him. I would do the same thing, Sh** man, you can get paid. He goes out there, put a suit on, and hang out – flow his hair down. To the majority race that’s in this country and they say oh stop, half of those people probably don’t even know where he’s coming from.
Terrill:            Right, exactly.
Stanley:          You know that if it wasn’t for Miles Davis, he wouldn’t even have a trumpet in his mouth. Playing like that. That’s my problem with this country.
Terrill:            And that’s making such a solid point. It also stimulates just this other question that I’m going to have to throw back at you. Is that when you want to encourage the young, you still have to look at what’s already there. When you look at what fed it – radio. Radio has done a tremendous job of, I think, of possibly hurting the jazz genre.
Stanley:          Oh yes.
Terrill:            For not playing or staying consistent in playing honest, valuable jazz music. Either would be miscategorized. Smooth jazz, urban jazz, contemporary jazz, you name it. But there’s a lot of artists out there. Independent artists that are not getting their music heard. In fact your music I hear at times doesn’t get recognized on radio.
Stanley:          The thing is that the word, the term jazz, the word jazz is an undefined term. What I mean by that is jazz to me is like Navajo white paint. It’s like there’s about 50 different Navajo white paints. You know, “Jazz”. I went to this grocery store and this big tall brother came to me and said, “Man….Stanley Clark! Man I listen to jazz & I’m a serious jazz listener.” I said “Yeah, wow!” So I started naming people that I thought he listened to. He said, “Ah…I don’t know them”. I said “What?” He said, “Man… you heard that new Kenny G jam?” or “Did you hear the new Sade?” I said, “Man, oh man. Whoa I’m happy for you.”. I went and bought my oatmeal and left. Because the guy, I can’t blame him.
Terrill:            That’s true.
Stanley:          They’re taking the term jazz and it’s being changed. 
Terrill:            It’s being misprojected.
Stanley:          Yes.
Terrill:            It’s being misprojected when you listen to smooth jazz radio stations and they say ‘hey listen to this smooth jazz’ and you’ll hear one song by yours truly Kenny G, followed by songs of Patti LaBelle, Sade and let’s stick Earth, Wind and Fire in there. We, you, me and everybody else, my momma, my daddy, and the young, even the little kids will know that’s R&B.
Stanley:          That’s R&B man.
Terrill:            That’s R&B. So as a musician like yourself who have been behind the scenes producing it, songwriting it, released albums before, in the middle and after – how does that feel to know that, that kind of medium out there is misprojecting the term jazz?
Stanley:          All you can do is hope that you can get to talk to somebody like yourself. It has to be started on the press level, because it is something that is in the media and you just hope that’s there’s an opposing force with some logic. People don’t know and I don’t think the guys are doing it. I don’t think they’re devious. They don’t, they probably don’t even know, I mean, it’s just hard to say man. All I know is that whenever I get the opportunity or someone ask me about that, I try to speak on it on a real level. Hopefully somebody will listen. And if I get a chance to change two or three people, great. You are right there. Are a lot of great artists, that actually right now, have an outlet?
Terrill:            None.
Stanley:          No way possible. There is no way they could get their music played. The cool thing, one of the things I like about the online scenes, just that whole universe – even the digital stuff, XM Radio.  I mean Satellite Radio, now there’s a few more avenues. There’s a few more places for people to get their stuff played. And thank God for that, ’cause for a while there, it was really grim.
Terrill:            Oh man. Man! Hey man, again we just appreciate your comments and we know darn well with the viewership we got here, it’s going to reach the heart somewhere.
Stanley:          Yes.
Terrill:            And as long as we continue and Mr. Clark, based on many of the other artists I’ve interviewed already. I hade the privilege to speak to some great jazz artists. It’s pretty much all on the same page. I couldn’t speak on their behalf, but it’s just that need to you know. There’s a need for additional exposure.
Stanley:          Yes. Somebody at some point. I don’t really know when it’s going to happen but like anything at some point, someone will have a forum, a convention or something. There’ll be something like a panel – it will get some people from radio. I believe one of the things I liked about Malcolm X was that what he did – he lost his life doing it. But he would go directly to who he perceived his enemy was and he would let them know that he was willing to take a stand. Now, if you viewed this like a war, you know, you have to look at the clear channel. You have to look at that conglomerate there. Now I’m not saying these are evil people. I don’t know these people. Because they’re hidden under the shroud of their name and who they are and etc., etc., etc. So you can’t say I’m going to go see Joe.  I do think if you had a consortium of musicians, serious musicians, people that make records, people that have great reputations and you go to them and you talk to them. The first point I will trail out of all of this like my own personal success, my own record sales – I think that’s kind of weak to go somewhere and say well I want you to do something so I could sell more records. But the one thing that we could all do is to go and tell them to stop distorting the name jazz. Really, really stop it! Not for me but for my kids and for my kids’ kids. The guys that invented that thing. When you go all the way back to Louis Armstrong – these are serious brothers. All the way up through Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis. I mean there’s a tradition here and this is our music. This is African American music & ndash; it is part of the experience. Don’t have some other people that maybe are not African Americans distort the legacy.
Terrill:            Right…
Stanley:          If they want to play smooth jazz and a bit of R&B, I don’t mind that. I actually see that sometimes. We use smooth jazz and a pinch of R&B. That’s okay. I don’t mind that, but when I hear you listen to smooth jazz and you hear a Luther Vandross record, I ain’t cutting it – it makes me angry. I tell you man, if you ever find yourself around a bunch of people you know and you need somebody to join in on the conversation, call me up I’ll be there.
Terrill:            Alright big brother!
Stanley:          I love to talk about that type of an issue.
Terrill:            You might as well sit tight, because I got a feeling it’s coming extremely fast!
Stanley:          Yes. You know the guy who ever puts that together is going to be – that’s going to be a very important guy. Loved by a lot of musicians, ’cause there’s a lot of people and I’ll tell you something else that’s shocking. Maybe you know this already, but there are a lot of smooth jazz DJs that come to my shows and when they come back stage, they know me and they look at me and they say, ‘I know Stanley, I know I know, I know man.’
Terrill:            That’s a shame. Because it’s funny. That’s something I encountered when I went to the Long Beach Jazz Festival and I encountered that conversation back stage too. In fact I sat at a table with some well known jazz artists and it just – the feeling was right there.
Stanley:          I mean you know it’s, it’s the way it is man. It’s like,  I mean, I don’t even want to name some of these guys. There’s some big, big DJs man that come….. There’s a woman that came to me recently. She’s out here in L.A. – you could probably figure out who she is, but big, big. She said ‘Stanley, I don’t know what to do but you know I got to feed my kids’. I just grabbed her and gave her a hug and I said ‘Look. I’m just so happy that I know that you know’. That’s all, that’s a start. Because how this is handled, who knows. I don’t really know the proper steps. I know that eventually like any bit of injustice, it will eventually get looked at and people will definitely correct it. It may take a hundred years, whatever. But in th
is case, in the radio, this can happen really shortly. Or at least they’ll know.
Terrill:            Right.
Stanley:          I don’t even think they’re aware of it.
Terrill:            Wow! Wow. And again, I know The Urban Music Scene is taking appropriate steps to be a player and possibly create what is necessary to show the true education of what jazz is, of what R&B is, what Gospel music is. Even what rap music is, because there’s a difference between rap and hip hop.
Stanley:          Absolutely!
Terrill:            You know especially where rap began with Kurtis Blow and you know those guys. It was a dance theme deal, you know. They got together just exactly how you said it. And it got down to creativity on the turntables, with Grand Master Flash & many more…
Stanley:          Very creative man, very creative.
Terrill:            You know that creativity is out. And again it became a commercialized society. Again it does take individuals like ourselves to not just sit down and talk amongst each other – We do need to put it out there and get these guys involved and let them know we do care. In order for us to be able to comment on it, we’ve got to be honest.
Stanley:          At least acknowledge that there’s something different between this and that and what is it and what the history is. At least get it right and don’t just pour it all together. You know, in one little bunch and that’s what really, really bugs me.
Terrill:            I’m not going to take too much of your time sir. I just got one last question and I know you’re going to go and take that break. A well deserved one too, sir. Do you have any tour information coming up?
Stanley:          Yes. There’s a good chance that Return to Forever with Chick Corea, myself, Lenny White and Al Di Meola are going to tour next year. We’re actually talking and negotiating as we speak right now.
Terrill:            That’s going to be awesome.
Stanley:          Yeah, that’s going to be awesome.
Terrill:            I still got those LPs sitting in the garage bro!
Stanley:          That’s going to really be off the chain. And that’s going to really be something. We’re gearing up for that. If that’s going to happen, probably next year, the majority of the year will be just in preparation for that.
Terrill:            Okay.
Stanley:          If that’s going to happen. That’s pretty much….we got to find the old music, find the old stuff – get it together, rehearse the hard edge stuff and just get out there and do it. You know. I’m hoping that it happens. I use to like to tour with that band. Because it’s like a traveling university boys. We were just very lucky that we were very successful – people just liked us.
Terrill:            Oh absolutely. Your music is nothing but legacy and concrete. The foundation, part of the foundation. How about the 80s, traveling with George Duke again?
Stanley:          Yes. You know what? I want to do with George is that we’re talking. I want to make another recording with him. I always do dates with him. We always get, like people always like that band, they just call up. We’ll go places. We went to Korea recently. We just took a couple of days and went to South Africa and played. I mean, I always do ‘x’ amount of dates with George every year. But what I really want to do is do a record.  Another record. Another Clark-Duke project.
TERRILL:     Yes! the Clark-Duke project, number 4?
Stanley:          That’s right.
Terrill:            That’s right! You know I know my stuff. Huh?
Stanley:          That’s right!
Terrill:            On top of that, we played back your “School Days” project for review. When you go on the web site, go check out our ‘Back in the Day’ page and look at our very own, Rob Young. He knocked that out! We call it a reminder – these cats have got to know where it all came from.
Stanley:          Yes. Right!
Terrill:            Boss, Thank you so much for your time!
Stanley:          Your welcome.